Pond5 artist Helen Fields (aka HotelFoxTrot) based in Hampshire, England, produces all types of stock footage including aerials and lucid underwater scenes, and this week she is here to share some secrets behind running her high-end productions. From planning to pricing and continuously monitoring of performance, there is a lot of research to be done and if you watch this video and read our interview you’ll be one step closer to making it yourself. Are you ready to learn what it takes to capture and sell stunning and successful stock imagery?
Hello, Helen. How would you describe your filmmaking and what you do for Pond5? The footage that I produce for Pond5 has a very polished and contemporary look, we’re looking for the footage to be able to sell for a long period. So it’s got to be high-end, with high production values and making sure that the footage we produce is relevant to whatever is going on today, whatever our clients need, whatever is trending.
How do you choose your themes for stock footage? I choose the themes for stock footage by looking at what the gaps in the marketplace are. So we constantly watch our own portfolio but we also watch other people’s. We look at what sells and what doesn’t sell. But apart from that we also look at the news: what’s happening abroad, what’s happening in the financial sector, what’s happening in the business sector. We’re quite business heavy in terms of our footage, so looking at whether or not property is trending or banking is trending are things that will lead us to think we need to cover these sorts of areas. We know there’s going to be a demand. So we very much look at demand and then we supply. You can see there is a lot of research time there.
Once you have the theme, which concepts do you think sell best in your portfolio? In terms of which concepts sell the best, it’s always a bit of a gamble. We know there is always going to be a marketplace for business stock, but you can’t just do one thing. It’s all about making sure you’re producing footage which hasn’t been covered already to a great extent. So we also do lifestyle shoots, we cover charity, we cover unusual aspects like underwater filming… we recently did filming where we set up a forensic lab and a hospital at a studio, so we’re covering all our bases to make sure we’ve got wide appeal.
What are you working on next? At the moment, it’s a couple of aerials shoots — I’m not going to tell you where, because it’s exciting, it’s a secret! — and working on doing some drone helicopter filming because that’s a new toy so that’s going to be good fun. And a couple more business shoots planned. We’ll always work about three months ahead in terms of setting up shoots and making sure we are keeping busy and that we have enough in the diary that we know where we’re going.
Doing some aerial shots also has to do with watching the marketplace: aerial shots are popular, they tend to be harder to do, so the reality is that there are fewer aerial shots going up and fewer filmmakers could go out and get that sort of footage. So we know that it’s going to sell. It’s also really really good fun to go into, so there’s a bit of a draw in not doing the same old thing. But they also are demanding… it’s risky because it’s weather based, you can have everything set up and then it all goes horribly wrong, but it’s also lovely because you can do the same shots in the afternoon or as the sun goes down or at night and get a completely different look. So when we do aerial shooting we set up to do the same path maybe three times of the day to get very different looks out of the same area.
What’s the set of standards you have when producing stock? The standards we apply have always been and will always be exactly the same as producing films for a high-end corporate, for a television advert or for a cinema advert. That is to say that because it is stock footage there is no excuse to produce it to any lower standard than what would be a broadcast standard, because you never know when that footage is going to go out. Also, we know that every piece of footage we produce is an advert for all the other footage we produce. If we do a poor shoot or it has poor post-production or it doesn’t look good, it shows us in a bad light. So it always has to be high-end. It always has to be the very best that we can produce. And there is no excuse for anything less.
So what speciality gear do you have for creating stock footage? The kit that we use is quite diverse. We have a range of cameras available, we use Cannons and the RED Epic. The Epic has dramatically increased the sort of quality of the footage that we can produce. But the backup to that is to always make sure that there is good lighting — you know, daylight, lighting that makes things look fresher — and recently we’ve acquired a drone helicopter, which is really good fun but needs a little bit more practice before we start using that… and, obviously, tracking dolly, Kessler crane, these sorts of things. And they really produce those nice one-off shots and the smoothness of shots that you just can’t get in any other way. And it gives us the diversity, so when we are in the studio it’s really nice to be able to have a range of movement that that extra special kit gives you.
How much work goes into filming a big shot like some of the ones you do, with 10 or 12 people sometimes? To create the larger shoots, where we use multiple models, big locations, there is obviously a lot of overhead cost for us, and we need to make sure in advance that those shoots are going to be financially viable. So… a lot of research time, very careful casting — we’re very aware of diversity, models that we’ve worked with before, mixing them in with new models but making sure we’ve got the experience across the board. We always visit locations, so we know exactly where we’ve got light, and power, and facilities and diversity of shots, where we can put cameras to get different angles. So, a lot of research, a lot of time spent on, and really, the key with us is the bigger the outlay the much more greater research and detail that we need to go into because none of this should be gambling. It is all about knowing where your margins are, what the prospects of return are, and making sure that you’re producing work that is commercially viable.
You have thousands of clips up there! How did you manage to create so many? The diversity of the clips and the scale of the clips that we produce really has been made possible by the fact that we set up effectively a production line. So there’s a team now and we work through from getting ideas, researching, looking up what’s trending, setting up a shoot, location companies… We have a team that does the front-end of it (researching or shooting) and then we’ll move on to other people who edit, deal with rendering and the legal technicalities (making sure that all the model releases are uploaded) and then someone else will go down later and do keywording and check file performance afterwards. So the reason why were able to produce lots of footage is really because we’ve created a structure within our company that allows us to be specific about creating tasks. I do think that at the level that we are working at now we probably couldn’t all do every single task.
And how did you find out about Pond5? We found out about Pond5 first of all as a buyer. So, having sourced stock footage online, Pond5 was there with a very strong presence, and I liked the way that they presented themselves. I always thought that the site was very easy to use, and we know from experience that when we are buying we don’t like using agency sites that are difficult to navigate or to go to purchase from. So Pond5 was the obvious place to put our footage.
How do you find creating footage for Pond5? Creating stock footage for Pond5 has been very easy, an absolute joy really, because they’re very user friendly. The standards of user-care are very high and they’re very very good at making the prices as simple as they can. When you’re working to deadlines and trying to upload a lot of footage in the way that we do, that is of use. And the accessibility and good communications is what has made Pond5 a big winner for us.
How do you determine the price of a clip? We determine the price of the clips by looking at comparables. So, again, it’s market research. It’s looking at what the nearest and closest competitors to us are selling their clips for and what sells well. And on the Pond5 site you can access really useful information about what is selling best over the week or the month, how much those files are selling for and how may times they have sold. So it allows you to do some really simple accounting to figure out what the best mean or medium price is for those clips. Sometimes reducing the price of a clip is going to make it sell more often. Just occasionally, with very high-end stock, you’re going to push the price higher knowing that you’re going to get more sales anyway, that is not price-dependent. We do change the price of our clips and we’re very careful about not just leaving matters like finance static. I think it’s very very important to keep watching the movement within the market force and making sure that everything you do is current.
What motivates you to keep producing stock footage for Pond5?
Can I say money?
You can say money!
Ok then! But let me say it in a different way too: the thing that motivates us to keep on producing stock for Pond5 is to push our boundaries in the sort of shoots we can do, to constantly push ourselves in terms of production level. It’s interesting for us not to duplicate shoots so we’re always looking for something more exciting or more fun, whether it’s a different aerial shoot or an underwater shoot or doing that bigger better business shoot than we can see anyone else doing. So it’s partially just self-challenging and really just wanting to keep motivated and keep busy and keep moving, though there are obvious financial rewards and that should always be kept in mind.
Finally, what advice would you give to our readers who are producing stock now? If I was going to give some advice to anybody producing stock footage now, I would say that there has been too much of a trend in stock footage towards having shots with models that are terribly posed, that look really awfully cheesy, and that look very fake. Although we know from the feedback that we get and from the requests that we get that is that people want footage that looks much more candid, that looks natural, that doesn’t look posed. So really it’s about moving away from those terribly static or terribly cheesy shots that really don’t work anymore. And I always think it makes it look like something from the 1980s. So that’s one piece of advice. The other thing, looking for a very technical camera angle, is that lighting is something. When I look at other people’s footage, and they have a great location, and great looking actors and models and they have good ideas for shoots… the lighting just isn’t up to standard. And if your lighting isn’t up to standard, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in the rest of the shot, it won’t sell, because it just can’t be used properly. So if you’re going to spend a bit of extra money, (…) do a lighting course. It’s something that is very obvious, but people don’t actually focus on quite enough, I don’t think.